Tag Archives: Faith

A LOOK BACK: To Wrestle and Prevail

Read Genesis 32:22-32

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NRSV)

jacob13

Questioning is a huge part of what it means to be human. We as human beings have been given the ability to think for ourselves, to know good from evil, to create, to name, and to care for other things. We have been given the vision of what paradise is, of what it means to live in harmony with all of creation, and we have also been forced to recognize that reality is often times much different than our vision of utopia. It is in those moments that we find ourselves questioning ourselves, questioning humanity, questioning the created order and, most importantly, questioning our Creator.

This is especially true when we are going through our own trials. When we find that we are losing control over different aspects of our lives, or when we come to the realization that we were never in control to begin with, we find that we start to question God. When we lose our wealth, when we our loved ones, when we lose our health, when we lose our independence, when we suffer loss in any sense, we can’t help but cry out to God and question why these things are happening. What’s more, we often get angry at God and, in the process, begin to feel guilt over our anger, over our doubt, over our questioning.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, we read of a man named Jacob who had stolen his brother’s birthright many years earlier and he was on his way back home to try and make amends with his brother who wanted to kill him…literally. One night, while on his way back to his homeland to meet his angry brother, a man suddenly wrestles with Jacob. We aren’t told who this man was and one can assume that Jacob had no clue who he was either. The two wrestle each other all night long and, in the end, Jacob wins the wrestling match. Realizing that Jacob had won the other man strikes him on his hip, which leaves Jacob permanently injured. Still, Jacob did not let go of the man and refused to do so until the man blessed him.

Perhaps Jacob thought the man was his brother Esau, after all, it was dark and the man happened upon him suddenly.  Regardless, the man ends up relenting and giving Jacob his blessing. After that, Jacob lets the man go and he names the place Peniel, which means, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” For whatever reason, Jacob came to the realization that the man was God, and that he had wrestled with God. Upon this revelation, God renames Jacob Israel because he had wrestled with God and prevailed.

I tell this story for all who feel guilty for wrestling with God. For all who have questioned and for all who have found themselves angry with God, take heart! You are not alone. God has big shoulders and can take our questions. God knows our hearts and understands our anger. God blesses us when we wrestle with God, because that means we are in relationship with God. We weren’t created to be mindless drones; rather, we were created to be a relationally engaged people. Who doesn’t struggle in relationships? That’s the very nature of them.

Take heart, be confident, and know that God does love you and that God does give you the space to wrestle! God has blessed you with the ability to question, to think freely, and to wrestle with God when we don’t understand why things are as they are. In fact, it is in that relational wrestling match that we will find that God has richly blessed us with a renewed assurance of our identity in our Creator, and of our Creator’s identity in us. For all who have indeed wrestled with God, stand up tall and thank God for such an awesome opportunity.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing.” – Marcus Aurelius

PRAYER
Lord, you know my heart and you know that I have struggled and even wrestled with you. I thank you for having broad shoulders and for giving me the opportunity to wrestle and, more importantly, to be in relationship with you. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: God’s People, part 6: Abraham

Read Genesis 12:10-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith.” (Galatians‬ ‭3:9‬ ‭NLT)‬‬‬‬

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 6, Abraham. Even if one has never been in a church, or sat in a Sunday school class, he or she most likely knows exactly who Abraham is. He is known as the father of three of the worlds major religions, all three of those religions being the largest in the world. He is also the father of the three religions that have had the most impact on the development of the world. So, it is pretty hard to live in this world and NOT know who Abraham is.

If you were to randomly ask who Abraham was, you might get “the father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.” Or, you might get “the old guy who had a child.” Or, still, you might get “the guy who took his child up on a mountain to sacrifice him because God told him to” (more on this later). Of course, you most likely would get “a person of tremendous faith.”

All of the above are true; however, the fact is that Abraham got things wrong far more often than he got things right. While he may have had faith when it came to following God’s call to leave his homeland behind, he did not have faith enough to not sleep with Hagar in order to have a male heir. His faithfulness to God was limited by his inability to remain faithful to Sarah. I am not even referring to the fact that he had sexual relations with another woman, but that he was so willing to give his wife over to be the sexual property of kings in order to save his own hide.

On top of all that, Abraham had such a faith in God that he was willing to do something that is so horrific, so unimaginable that, it is hard to justify no matter what one’s theology is. When Abraham is told by God, according to the story, to sacrifice his son Isaac on top of a mountain, Abraham does exactly what he is told, without even questioning.. He does not let Sarah know, for obvious reasons, but he takes his son and has him carry the wood to his place of death.

The whole time, Isaac is walking alongside of his dad thinking that they are on their way to sacrifice a lamb. He even asks his dad, “where will we get a lamb, dad?” Abraham responds, “The LORD will provide us one.” Nice, right? He’s leading his own son to the slaugther and Isaac is completely unaware that his dad, the one who is supposed to love and protect him, is about to butcher him with a knife and burn his flesh to appease God.

It truly is one of the most horrific stories in all of the Bible. It’s easy for us to glaze over the fact that he’s about to murder his son, and focus on the faith he was displaying to do so; however, would any of us think the same thing if a modern father attempted to murder his own son because he heard God’s voice telling him to? When Abraham hears that the city that his nephew was living in is going to be destroyed, he argues with God over it and gets God to agree to spare his nephew’s life. If he could do that for his nephew, why didn’t he do that for his own son? He had faith in God, sure, but he clearly was lacking in any sort of understanding of God’s character: LOVE. Otherwise, he would have surely questioned God on the command to sacrifice his son. Thank goodness that God put a stop to it before Abraham could carry the murderous act all the way through to its grizzly conclusion.

I could go on and on regarding the serious flaws that can be found in Abraham, but to mention all his flaws is beside the point. After all, we are all flawed, are we not? Despite his flaws and shortcomings, God saw the heart of Abraham. While he often failed to perfectly live up to God’s standard, his heart never waivered in trying. He strived to follow a God. Even though he could not see God, he knew God was present with him. Because of that, Abraham was open hearing God’s voice, and he followed it to the best of his ability. That is all that God asks of us as well. While we might not always be faithful, God is ALWAYS FAITHFUL. All God asks in return is for us to open ourselves up to the direction of the Holy Spirit and to trust that, no matter what our flaws are, God’s grace is sufficient and is sufficiently working Salvation in us and through us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

While God would never ask us to sacrifice our children to “prove our faith”, God does ask us to sacrifice plenty of other things (tithes, time, talents, presence, etc.), and doing so proves our faith.

PRAYER

Lord, give me ample opportunity to grow in my faith, so that my faith may witness to you.

A LOOK BACK: God’s People, part 5: Sarah

Read Genesis 21:1-7

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
So she laughed silently to herself and said, “How could a worn-out woman like me enjoy such pleasure, especially when my master—my husband—is also so old?” (Genesis 18:12 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

SarahAndIsaac

Part 5, Sarah. I don’t think that we in modern Western Civilization have a good or healthy understanding of the character of Sarah. When we think of her story we only think of one thing, her pregnancy with Isaac in old age. That is not entirely our fault because the Bible presents that moment as the crowning moment in Sarah’s life and, no doubt, it was. What’s more, we are so far removed from that ancient world, that the context is almost nearly lost to us.

If we think of anything else, regarding Sarah, we think of how she had an incredibly hard time believing that what God said would happen would come true. We almost hold that against her contemptuously, as if it isn’t completely insane to believe a woman of 70+ years was going to bear a child! “Oh, but God said it would happen,” one might contend, “and she should have believed God because God is all-powerful and can make anything happen.” Well, that’s easy for one to say, but I would reply back, “Whose god? And why don’t you start believing that God can make your grandmother pregnant, if that is so easy to believe?”

We forget Sarah’s story, and we also forget that there’s more to her life, to her worth, than her ability, or lack thereof, to get pregnant. Yet, Sarah came from a world where pregnancy was the crowning achievement for a woman. In fact, it was understood at the time to be the main reason a woman existed, to bear the man’s male child so that the family could have an heir and the patriarchy could continue. It was a man’s world, through and through.

But back to the question of “whose god?”. We forget that Abram (Abraham) and Sarai (Sarah) were not Jewish and they did not always worship Yahweh (I AM that I AM). They came from a foreign land (Ur) and worshipped many gods. So, it is all well and good that Abram had this inkling to follow a new-found god, but why would that make Sarah believe that this god could make the impossible happen?

Don’t get me wrong, Sarah was far from a perfect person. She certainly doubted that God would make her, barren and at an advanced age, pregnant. She even laughed when an angel told her husband that she would conceive a child. She “convinced” her husband to sleep with her servant girl, Hagar, in order that Hagar might serve as a surrogate mother to Sarah’s “child.” She harshly abused Hagar and Ishmael out of jealousy when her own son, Isaac, was finally born. She was so jealous that she eventually had Hagar and Ishmael banished out into the wilderness where she had hoped they would die.

Be that as it may, she also was a woman who had a tough life and endured abuse at the hands of her sometimes-cowardly husband. She was barren and no doubt believed by her family to be under the curse of the gods because she could not give her husband what every good wife was supposed to produce: a male heir. She had to leave everything behind, her family and friends and homeland, to chase some crazy dream of a promised land and descendants that match the number of stars. She had a husband who, fearing for his life, sexually trafficked her to the courts of kings. Sarah’s life was not one that any of us would hope to have. It was hard, it was uncertain, and filled with much woe.

Yet, despite her flaws and hardships, God still favored this woman and richly blessed her. God did keep the promise to give her a child and God rose up out of that child innumerous descendants, including many kings of many nations. What’s more, out of Sarah came the descendant who would be the Light of the World. Sarah’s laughter of disbelief became her laughter of joy.  Do you laugh at what God’s called you to do? Do you see God’s call as impossible? Do you even know what God’s purpose for you is? Have no fear, even in disbelief and doubt, in turmoil and struggle, God’s faithfulness is never ending. Have faith and believe.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“What do you mean, ‘If I can’? Anything is possible if a person believes.” – Jesus of Nazareth in Mark 9:23

PRAYER
Lord, fulfill in me your purpose for my life and turn my laughter of doubt into laughter of joy. Amen.

A LOOK BACK: Extreme Faith

Read Genesis 22:1-19

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” (Matthew 17:20)

indyOne of my favorite movies growing up was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Though I love all of the Indy movies, this one has always had a profound impact on me, especially on my understanding of faith. The story follows Indy on an adventure to save his dad; however, little does he know that this rescue mission will not only be about rescuing his father, but also rescuing his faith; he’s journey, over time, become a soul-searching quest.

In one scene, Indy finds himself standing at the edge of an abyss. He is facing a test unlike any other he had ever been challenged with. He quickly realized that the only way across was to take the proverbial leap of faith. The only problem was that the leap was about the length of a football field, if not longer. How is that humanly possible? How can anyone hope to get across such a huge abyss? Surely it is absurd to believe he could actually do it.

Yet, Indy must take that leap as his father’s life is bleeding out onto the cavern floor. He has to reach the Holy Grail, with the hope that the fabled treasure will restore his father’s life. Slowly, Indy places his hand over his chest as if to try and calm his heartbeat.  Could he really go through with this. All reason points to him plummeting to his death. Yet, he raises his right leg and lets his weight fall forward. As he falls forward, his foot lands on an invisible walkway. Indy has passed the test.

As Christians, we often take our faith for granted. We say we believe in God, we say we believe in miracles, and we even say that we KNOW that God exists and that miracles happen; however, if we truly KNEW such things, would we really need faith? If Indy knew that the walkway existed, would he have had to calm his heartbeat? All that Indy thought he knew was that he was bound to plummet to his death.

Christ calls us to be a people of faith. Like Abraham, who did not know God was going to stop him from sacrificing Isaac, like the prophets who didn’t know if they would survive proclaiming God’s judgment to the kings of Israel, just like Jesus who faced the gulf of the unknown in the olive garden, just like the disciples who did not know what fate awaited them in foreign lands, we too are called to live a life of extreme faith.

Søren Kierkegaard, once said that the faithful are like those who are suspended over 70,000 fathoms of water and yet they still have faith and are joyful. Why? Because, though it might be absurd to have faith in the midst of such uncertainty, they trust that God will come through. It may be absurd to the rest of the world, but the person of faith holds onto that absurdity in faith. I challenge you to be a people who have such trust in God. I challenge you to be living examples of extreme faith, to be tiny mustard seeds that move the mountains and shake the foundations of the earth.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“If I am capable of grasping God objectively, I do not believe, but precisely because I cannot do this I must believe.” – Søren Kierkegaard

PRAYER

Lord, help me to grow in my faith so that I may be equipped with your grace, enough to move the mountains with your hope, healing and wholeness. Amen.

God’s People, part 294: Jude

Read Jude

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
Then they scoffed, “He’s just the carpenter’s son, and we know Mary, his mother, and his brothers—James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. All his sisters live right here among us”(Mt 13:55–56, NLT).

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 294: Jude. There has been much controversy and misunderstanding when it comes to the “Holy Family”. First, is what I will call the Roman Catholic/Protestant controversy, which is the controversy of whether Mary only had one child or if, after the virgin birth, she consummated her relationship with Jospeh and had other children. The Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians maintain that Mary remained a virgin and that James, Jude (aka Judas…but not to be confused with Judas Iscariot) and the other siblings were either Joseph’s from a previous marriage, or that the sibblings were actually cousins whose Mother, also named Mary, were kin to Joseph and taken in by the Holy Family.

Initially, Protestants didn’t argue against perpetual virginity because they were trying to walk the line of splitting from Rome but maintaining the essential doctrines of the Roman Catholic. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and even Wesley upheld their views in the perpetual virginity of Mary. It didn’t take long after the establishment of Protestantism, however, for the notion of Sola Scriptura to cause Protestants to question and eventually drop belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary.

Why? Because sex was something God ordained and blessed within the covenant of marriage and Mary is not any less holy for consummating a marriage that God clearly blessed. Moreover, the Gospels explicity contradict the perpetual virginity doctrine. Beyond the fact that both Mark and Matthew explicitly name Jesus’ siblings (which they refer to them as siblings of Jesus), Matthew also wrote that Joseph “…did not have sexual relations with [Mary] until her son was born…” (Matthew 1:25).

That verse alone Scriptural proof that Joseph and Mary consummated their marriage and had more children following the birth of Jesus. There would be no need to write it otherwise. If Joseph and Mary never had sex, the author would have NEVER written that verse. He would have, instead, written that Joseph did not have sexual relations with Mary before or after her son was born; however, that is not what the Scripture verse says. Furthermore, Luke writes that Mary “…gave birth to her firstborn son” (Luke 2:7). If there was only ONE son, then it would have been said by Luke that she gave birth to her ONLY son; yet, that is not what Luke wrote.

As a Protestant, we have to put Scriptural evidence above the later teachings oof the church Father’s and church tradition. Jude, like James, was one of Jesus’ many siblings. He is also traditionally viewed as the author of the epistle of Jude, which is the second to the last “book” in the New Testament. At the outset of the letter, the author does introduce himself as Jude, the brother of James. Despite scholarly debate, I tend to give credence to tradition when there isn’t clear evidence against it. Thus, I tend to think of the author as being Jude.

The letter itself was written against Christian teachers and leaders who were living and and leading people to live lives of immorality. It is a letter that is short, but strong in it’s advocating in mainting a holy and moral life that reflects the Lordship of his brother Jesus. The irony there is that Jude, along with James and the other siblings, did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah or the Son of God before his resurrection and ascension.

In Mark 3:21, we learn from Mark that his family tried to take him away because they felt that he had lost his mind. Mark does not explicity say who in his family, so we have assume that they all were worried that Jesus was going to get himself killed if he kept going on the path he was on. In verse 31 of the same chapter, Mary and his brothers actually showed up to talk to Jesus while he was teaching his disciples and others. We can successfully presume that this in relation to what was said ten verses earlier. They were coming to “talk sense” into Jesus and take him back home.

In Acts 1:14 we learn that Mary and Jesus’ brothers were among the believers who met to decide Judas’ replacement. By that point, Jude and James were believers and were going to become influential in carrying on the ministry of their half-brother. From there, we learn that James becomes the more prominent, leading the church of Jerusalem. Jude, though not as prominent as James the Just, still had influence and traveled with his family to bring the Good News to people. He also ended up writing a letter to correct Christians who were following false teachers.

The point of this is that we all come to Jesus in our unique ways. Jesus’ half-brothers were no different; however, when they saw their brother resurrect and they saw him ascend into heaven, there was no doubt that they were not only going to believe, but that their lives were forever transformed. The same is true for us. How have you encountered the Risen Lord? How have you come to know Jesus? Reflect on that and appreciate how the Lord reached out to you and established his Kingdom in your heart.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” – Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ (Mark 3:34b-35, NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, help me to appreciate my relationship with you and use me to introduce you to others. Amen.

Reclaim, Episode 2: “Fasting”

In this brand new video series, Pastor Todd of First United Methodist Church of Newton, NJ brings passionate awareness and helpful tips on various transformational Christian practices and theology. Each episode will inspire and motivate spiritual growth through time-tested practices and and wisdom.

This week’s episode invites you to RECLAIM fasting as a wholesome and healthy practice in our lives. In this episode, Pastor Todd will discuss what fasting is and answer the question, “why fast?”. In this episode you will also find his own experiences with fasting, as well as tips for different ways to fast.

God’s People, part 276: Typical Politicians

Read Acts 24:1-27; 25:1-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I am planning to go to Spain, and when I do, I will stop off in Rome. And after I have enjoyed your fellowship for a little while, you can provide for my journey.”  (Romans 15:24, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 276: Typical Politicians. As was discussed in the last devotion, Paul was a Roman citizen and he used that fact to his advantage after being arrested in the Jerusalem Temple. Following his arrest, a Roman commander was going to have Paul whipped and beaten for being a “rabble rouser” but, prior to that happening, Paul questioned the legality of that being that he was a Roman Citizen by birth and had not received a fair trial.

The question was a successful move on Paul’s part and, as a result, was placed under protective custody while he awaited trial. In Acts 24, we see that Paul’s trial fell into the hands of Felix, who was the governor of Judaea at the time. Judaean Governors, lived in the city of Caesarea and rarely came to Jerusalem, except on high holy days and other events that could break into a successful rebellion due to the massive number of people gathering in the city. Thus, Paul was transported to a palace prison in Caesarea where he awaited trial.

Paul’s trial started twelve days after he was arrested, and he was accused of being a trouble maker and someone who desecrated the Temple, which he had not done but had been accused of. Thus, Felix turned to Paul to hear his side of things. Paul did so eloquently, and he explained why he was in Jerusalem, and that as a devout Jew he was at the Temple to observe the purification ritual. He did admit to being “a follower of The Way” (aka a follower of Jesus), which he also pointed out that the Jews accusing him saw “The Way” as a cult; however, he also pointed out his deep, devout Jewish convictions and his desire to follow the Law and the prophets.

When Felix heard that he was a follower of The Way, which he was familiar with, he decided to table the trial until the commander came. Paul was kept in prison, but was allowed to have some freedoms, such as regular visitors. The problem was that Felix’s wife was Jewish and he did not want to upset her or the Jewish people. Felix had to walk a fine line and he was hoping that Paul would get himself into trouble by trying to bribe him, or to find some other cause to nail Paul on.

Days turned into weeks, which turned into months, which turned into two long years. Yet, the trial ceased to continue. After two years in prison, another governor succeeded Felix. His name was Porcius Festus and, once he took over, he resumed Paul’s trial after pressure from the Jewish authorities. The initial trial took place in Ceasarea; however, not wanting to further upset the Jewish leaders, he asked Paul if he was willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial there. Paul objected and appealed to the emperor.

Little did Paul know that King Herod Agrippa was also coming to hear Paul’s case. According to Agrippa, he would have let Paul go if he had not appealed to Caesar; however, this should be taken with a grain of salt as Agrippa, just like Festus and Felix, was typical politician. With no pressure on him, he could easily make such a claim now that it was out of his hands; however, would he really have just let Paul go? Also, couldn’t Agrippa arranged to let Paul go and not send the appeal.

The point is that Paul knew that Christ was calling him to Rome. In his very letter to the Romans, he said that he wanted to go to Rome on his way to Spain. While I am sure that Paul knew that a trial in Caesar’s court might not go his way in the end, he was also sure that he could continue to witness to Christ in Rome as he knew he was called to do.

As for Felix, Festus and Agrippa, they were men of power. They didn’t care about Paul as much as they did their own prestige and station in life. All they cared about was looking good and keeping the peace. Paul was nothing to them, just a number. They were, sad to say, typical politicians. In appealing to Caesar, Paul was not actually looking for Caesar, another typical politician, to save him, but was fully thrusting himself into Christ’s plan. It was an act of faith and faithfulness. Let us, like Paul, not put our trust and hope in people, let alone politicians. They will fail us; however, Christ will not fail us and if we remain faithful to his mission, not even death will be able to stop us from our true inheritance.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
There is only one Savior, Jesus the Christ, and he is our only HOPE.

PRAYER
Lord, I look to you, and you alone, as my Lord and my Savior. In you alone I place my faith. Amen.

The Power of Faith

Read Hebrews 11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.”  (Matthew 17:20, NLT)

As you can see, I have been concentrating on horror movies throughout the month of October because that is Halloween month. For me, Halloween is not just a day, it’s an entire season. So, I spend at least October, if not parts of September and November watching horror films and listening to gothic and atmospheric music. This is a yearly ritual for me as Halloween is one of my favorite holidays…EVER.

One of my favorite vampire films from the 80s is one called, “Fright Night”, with William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Roddy McDowall and Chris Sarandon (aka Susan Sarandon’s brother). I love the film because it brings back memories of being a kid in the 80s and watching that film and others during the Halloween season. There is something about horror films in the 80s, with their blend of camp and over the top special effects that just draw me right in.

Anyway, this film is about a boy named Charlie who notices strange goings on next door after it is purchased by a strange, enigmatic man. As it turns out, Charlie becomes aware that his neighbor is a vampire because he sees him biting a woman through the bedroom window. He also saw his neighbor and a helper carrying what looked like a coffin into the basement of the house.

At first he tries to tell his mom; however, she thinks he had a bad nightmare and doesn’t believe him. His friend and his girlfriend don’t believe him either and Charlie feels at wits end because the vampire made it clear that he knows Charlie is on to him. To make matters worse, the neighbor, whose name was Jerry Danridge, was invited over to his house by his mom, which means that Jerry could now enter the house anytime he wants and harm his family.

Out of desperation, Charlie sought out a movie actor who portrayed his favorite vampire slayer, Peter Vincent. Of course, Peter was not REALLY a vampire slayer, but just an actor; however, to make a long story short, Charlie did eventually convince Peter that his neighbor is a vampire and that he needed Peter’s help. There is one scene where Jerry approached Peter Vincent to attack him and he pulled out a cross to ward him off. To Peter and Charlie’s surprise, Jerry  laughed at them, grabbed the cross, and crumbled it in his hand. “You have to have faith,” the vampire mocked, “for this to work Mr. Vincent!”

As he bent down to bit Peter, Charlie, with a fire in his eyes, lifted his cross. You could see that HE DID BELIEVE and, as a result, Jerry hissed backwards and ran away. Charlie, because of his faith in the power of the cross…the power of Christ…was able to save his hero’s life. Charlie and Peter both learned a valuable lesson that day. There is great power in faith.

The Bible teaches us that “faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:1, NLT). Charlie had hoped that by raising the cross he would be able to stop the vampire from doing harm to Peter. He had no evidence that it would work, and he couldn’t physically see how a cross could stop such evil; however, he believed that if he raised that cross, it WOULD WORK. He had faith and, because of that, he was able to overcome the evil that was attacking him and Peter Vincent.

While we live in the real world, where vampired don’t exist, we still are called to stand up against evil and oppression. Yet, how can we do that? How can we, who are sinful human beings, ever resist the forces of sin, evil, oppression and death? Christ calls us to have faith, to believe in HIS power to overcome such things through us. It’s not we who have the power, but HE who lives within us who can stop evil in it’s tracks and make it cower before the GOOD NEWS of Jesus Christ as expressed both on the cross and in the empty tomb.

This should challenge us to grow in our faith and to grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ. Like Charlie, not everyone will believe us, nor will they believe in what we believe in. Some may even mock us and most will not join us in our effort to do what is right despite the overwhelming odds. None of that matters if we keep our focus and our faith in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. It is him who will lead us to rise up against and resist evil and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation.” – D. Elton Trueblood

PRAYER
Lord, I do believe. Help me with my unbelief. Amen.

Vampire Hunters

Read Ephesians 6:11-18

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”  (1 Peter 5:8, NLT)

I just watched a new Netflix Original film entitled, “Vampires vs. the Bronx”, which is a comedy horror film about Vampires moving into the Bronx in order to take over the community and feed on its people. With that said, these vampires aren’t doing so out in the open; rather, they are hiding behind a real estate company that is run by a “familiar”, a human being who is promised by the vampires to be given immortality if he faithfully serves them.

The story centers around a young teenager (maybe 14 or a little younger) named Miguel Martinez, who is also nicknamed Li’l Mayor because of his desire to community organize. In fact, we first see him and his friends passing out flyers to save a local bodega (convenience store/deli), which is suffering because of people “moving out” of the community due to being bought out by a real estate company named, “Murnau Properties.” If you are a vampire fan, you will recognize that the real estate is named after F. W. Murnau, who was the director of the 1922 film, Nosferatu.

As it turns out, these business and home owners were not moving out; rather, they were being “bought out”, sold out, and then killed by the vampires. Miguel and his friends discover this and set out to stop the vampires from taking over their community; however, they find themselves grossly underprepared. Why? Let me just say, it is not because they are kids. In fact, if anything that is their greatest strength because their innocence and imaginations aren’t destroyed by adulthood.

The reason they are underprepared is because they don’t have all the tools they need to hunt and fight these vampires. They aren’t just fighting human beings behaving badly. They cannot just call the police, because they won’t believe these kids of color in the ‘hood over an establised, white real estate business. These kids are fighting SPIRITUAL forces of evil and injustice and, community organizing isn’t enough in spiritual warfare.

These kids, then, realize that though they typically avoided church and religion, they had to turn to it in order to fight these vampires. They needed to go to church, they needed to understand the power of the Eucharist (Holy Communion), they needed to rely on the power of the Cross, and the power of FAITH in Jesus Christ to defeat these foes. Suddenly, the church they saw as a boring obligation became their hope, and the priest they thought was too tough on them became their ally.

These kids learned an invaluable lesson that it takes more than activism and community organize to fight the forces of sin and evil. Spiritual warfare needs to be fought spiritually. In one of my favorite scenes, a vampire is about to kill one of the kids who, suddenly, pulls out the host and places it in the vampire’s mouth after proclaiming, “The Body of Christ”. The vampire was, at that very instant, rendered to ash.

This should challenge us to remember the importance of faith. Activism and community organizing will only ever take us so far. Why? Because people are sinful by nature and, even with the best intentions, will fail in truly setting up sinless institutions and organizations of change. What’s more, we are fighting forces that are not merely human, but are spiritual and evil in nature. In order to conquer such forces, we need to turn to the ONE who conquered sin, evil and death on the cross! Only Jesus Christ can help us overcome such forces and usher in the Kingdom of God in this world. Let us look toward Miguel and his friends as our example of why religion, faith and Jesus Christ are VITAL to changing our world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Do you rely on Jesus to resist sin, evil and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

PRAYER
Lord, I place my full trust in you. Hold me to this and steer me on the path of righteousness. Amen.